story / editorial
/ local news
by Joshua King
Photos by Thomas Tomczyk
the scenes" at the Chinaka circus is a show unto itself. Clowning
around is work and jokes, cartwheels and headstands are not childish
whimsies to the 11 circus artists. These are their tricks of the
trade that need to be practiced until refined. Yet there's another
element to the Chinaka circus performers life -- hours of free time.
ask me if I get tired of the work, always traveling. But how could
I become tired? I am in Roatan relaxing," says Chinaka circus
owner Erick Ponce. The 32-year-old clown, knife thrower and daredevil
then fished out a handful of photographs from his mobile home
parked by the circus tent near the Roatan Airport. All the photographs
were taken on Roatan. Pictured in the photographs were the 21
Chinaka circus members in swimsuits sitting on sunny beaches,
snorkeling and swimming. They were not in front of an audience,
but certainly were grinning.
According to Ponce, he lives a life of leisure although it's not
exactly luxurious all the time. An average circus performer in
Central America makes about $50 a week. Health insurance and retirement
plans are not common.
Work begins for the Chinaka circus performers in the late evening
right before the shows starts. That type of schedule leaves most
daytime hours free except for the two hours set daily for practice.
Ponce said that he has probably "seen more of the island
than most tourists."
Naming off places explored in April on Roatan, Ponce included
the ship wreck off of Dixon Cove. Late at night after a performance
the group of circus artists swam to the wreck and took photographs
of each other posing while huddled on the burnt remains of the
The circus arrived on Roatan in March and set up across from the
airport. Initially, Ponce and his crew planned to stay at least
through Semana Santa, but business was steady and the company
has extended its stay and relocated to Los Fuertes.
Within the circus industry, romance shifts hours as well. According
to Chinaka director and artistic manager Jean Cairoli, romantic
interests are pursued in the daylight hours, often times with
other circus performers. "It's much easier to marry within
the circus," said Cairoli. The gypsy lifestyle is familiar
to both people. It's common for a circus performer to quit one
circus company then join another to be closer to the person they
Traditionally, circus performers marry young. Ponce met his wife
when he was nine. She was in a different circus. By 16, he was
already married. When two circuses are working within a close
proximity, often the young men slip away in the day to spark romances
with performers from the other circus. "Finding love is always
a problem for singles in the circus," Cairoli said, because
being on the road all of the time prevents them from establishing
Two Chinaka circus performers refine their balancing
skills as the rest of the circus crew eats breakfast under
a canvas tent in Los Fuertes where nightly performances
were held in April.
ABOVE: A young girl offers her ticket to the ticket master
before entering the circus arena on
April 19 in Los Fuertes.
parents were circus performers as well. His father operated a
circus called "King Black." "All of my life I have
been in the circus," Ponce said. "It was fun growing
up. The work was fun
it still is. I love what I do, and
they pay me to do it."
Ponce, originally from Guatemala, calls the road home. He owns
no land, has no house, opting instead to live in a mobile home.
to Ponce, privacy between fellow performers is somewhat limited,
but not a problem. "We are one big family," he said.
Chinaka is divided into four families and things are typically done
as a group. "We go to the beach together. We go to the discotheque
together. We are friends. We almost always eat together," said
Cairoli. "We take care of each other's kids. I don't care if
the kid nearest me isn't mine, I'm going to watch out for it. That's
how we all are."
The Central American circus community is very much connected and
almost everyone knows one another. About 40 circuses call Guatemala
home. Erick Ponce is the nephew of Alfredo Ponce, the founder of
the Circus Brothers Ponce outfit dating its origins to 1966. In
the Ponce family alone, seven circuses exist. Erick Ponce established
Chinaka two years ago. Honduras has around 30 circuses. El Salvador
is home to about 60 different circus performance companies with
the majority of those companies being small operations.
Chinaka tours both Honduras and Guatemala. The circus features acts
by contortionists, acrobats, clowns and daredevils. Everybody takes
part in almost every aspect of the show. The circus artists have
to sell tickets, and then run behind the stage to get ready for
their own specialty act. Chinaka does not limit its show to traditional
Although there's time to spare for leisure activities, Chinaka circus
performers must also face the reality of the business. The circus
is a dangerous work environment. "Everybody's had broken bones,"
Ponce had to replace two teeth with dentures. Both of his legs have
been broken, he broke his wrist, a finger and several ribs. "It's
part of the business," said the frizzy-haired clown.
The two teeth Ponce lost were two years ago while attempting a vertical
four meter loop riding a motorcycle in the "Cage of Death-"
a metal sphere. The moment he reached the uppermost part of the
cage, the motorcycle engine cut-off and it fell. "It happened
very fast. The bike landed on top of me and knocked my teeth out.
Blood poured from my mouth." His helmet cracked into two pieces.
To successfully complete the stunt, Ponce said he must accelerate
the motorcycle to at least 70 kph.
In other one of his accidents, Ponce suffered a bruise to his right
thigh when he crashed the motorcycle in the cage before a Roatan
audience. The motorbike was also damaged. The clutch cable broke
and a replacement could not be purchased on the island. The show
was removed from the island repertoire.
With all the accidents and unpredictability, fear plays a big factor.
"You never really stop being scared," said Ponce, who
sees fear as an integral element of dangerous stunts. "The
day that I stop becoming scared in the Cage of Death will be the
day that I am going to die."
The name Chinaka has its own story. "I named my circus Chinaka
to be sarcastic," Ponce said. Within the circus community,
"chinakeros" (members of a Chinaka) do not rank high.
Chinaka means low profile, or in the circus business, a circus company
without a tent. Chinaka does own a tent, which takes the entire
crew roughly six hours to set up. The tent didn't come cheap, though.
The giant blue, hand stitched canvas cost approximately Lps. 20,000.
The key to being successful in the small circus business is to fill
the tent and travel light. Chinaka spent about Lps. 96,000 in transportation
costs from San Pedro Sula to Roatan. With three small animals, one
tight-rope walking monkey named Lukita and two dancing and obstacle-jumping
dogs, the company is able cut costs that burden larger circuses.
Adult tickets were sold at Lps. 60; children pay Lps. 30 to be entertained.
Chinaka also offered a two-for-one payment policy to attract more
customers. After the Lps. 2,000 per week city permit and electricity
costs, Cairoli estimates that Chinaka will bring a profit of Lps.
30,000 a week.
The circus has already made plans to move on. Next, the Chinaka's
travel plan is to ferry to Puerto Cortes and then head directly
to Guatemala City.
story / editorial
/ local news
______________back to top
Laboring confusion by Thomas Tomczyk, managing editor
hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you
will. -- A slogan of the Eight-hour Day movement.
never walked in the May Day parade. Even though teachers took attendance
and grades in "behavior" were at stake, I refused to take
part. For me, growing up in communist Poland, it was a way of opposing
the symbolism of the holiday.
During the Cold War, Eastern Europe May Day celebrations took on
a rigid and oppressive form. I resisted giving even the slightest
indication of being a part of celebrations I didn't understand for
the same reasons as for four years I resisted learning Russian.
Time passed. Times have changed. While America's Valentine's Day
has been gaining ground all over the world, May Day celebrations
have gained little in the hearts of most Americans who think of
the holiday as suspect and communist.
Central America and Honduras celebrates the holiday with marches
and demonstrations, yet most Americans living here understand little
about the meaning of these celebrations that date themselves to
events in XIX Century Chicago.
The origins of modern May Day lie in Chicago's Haymarket Riot. On
May 1, 1866 the American Labor Federation declared a national strike
to demand an eight-hour workday. Over two hundred people ended up
supporting the strike that culminated in a mass rally in Chicago's
Haymarket Square on May 4. Toward the end of the rally, someone
threw a bomb into the crowd, killing a police officer and injuring
others. The police reacted by opening fire, killing several demonstrators
and injuring hundreds of others.
The first Labor Day in the US was celebrated on September 5, 1882,
in New York City. By 1884 the Central Labor Union urged other American
cities to support a "workingmen's holiday" on the first
Monday in September. The original outline of the holiday was to
exhibit "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and
labor organizations" of the community, followed by a festival
for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families.
The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances
passed in 1885 and 1886. From them developed the movement to secure
state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the
New York legislature, but the first state to pass the holiday into
law was Oregon. Soon after, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey
and New York created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment.
By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday and Congress passed
an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal
Today, most Americans associate the Labor Day holiday with the struggle
to accept that summer is over, and not with work, labor or solidarity.
While Labor Day is a unifying holiday, May 1 emphasizes the disparity
between labor and management. May 1 is observed by workers, not
by management, while the September holiday, or at least a shopping
day, is enjoyed by all. Not unlike workers and "people managers"
walking hand-in-hand in the parades of communist Poland.
Fairly quickly American industry saw May 1 as a divisive holiday
that had implications across borders, out of their control. In a
way, the "European May Day" was only a reaction to the
events in Chicago and the agreement to the "softened down"
American Labor Day.
Until World War I, European worker unions pushed for the eight-hour
day through strikes and demonstrations. In the first such demonstration,
on May 1, 1890 workers took to the streets all over Europe. 100,000
demonstrated in Barcelona, 120,000 in Stockholm, 8,000 in Warsaw,
while thousands stayed at home in Austria and Hungary where demonstrations
were banned. Ten workers were shot dead in Northern France.
Today there are only two countries in the world that don't officially
celebrate May 1: United States and Canada. However in North America
in Québec, with its connection to France and Europe and as
an effort to separate it from the Anglo-Saxon tradition, May Day
is celebrated with force.
May 1 has a long history of misappropriating meanings. In medieval
and modern Europe May Day was a celebration of the return of spring.
People decorated trees, danced around a Maypole and gathered flowers
to ensure the fertility of the season's crops. In 1955 the Vatican
moved the liturgical holiday dedicated to St. Joseph the Artisan,
a laborer saint, from May 15 to May 1, creating a "Christian
Labor Holiday." For many third world countries May 1 became
a national holiday celebrating often newly-won independence.
The fight over the choice of date is a recurrent theme in the history
of May Day. From the outset it had been seen as an alternative to
other festivities, religious or civic, because of its international
and class character.
For most Europeans, 2004 will give yet another meaning to the date.
On May 1 this year, Poland and nine other European countries will
join the European Union in creating the biggest economic market
in the World. I will celebrate it with 240 Million people from Cyprus,
Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland,
Slovakia and Slovenia.
story / editorial
/ local news
CRIME & VICIOUS DOGS
cabdrivers were thrown under the spotlight and criticized by the
island expatriate community during their bi-annual meeting with
Mayor Jerry Hynds.
Roatan Mayor Jerry Hynds met with the expatriates to provide updates
on current development projects and to listen to concerns and
complaints. The increasing number and inconsistent quality of
taxis on the island were among the concerns heard from Roatan's
foreign residents on Tuesday, April 20, at Fantasy Island.
"Do the taxi drivers understand anything about driving?"
asked an expatriate from the audience. "There are too many
of them [taxis]," Hynds responded. To deal with the problem
the mayor has requested the Roatan Transit Department not to issue
more taxicab permits. "I am concerned about the number of
cars. Eight to 10 cars arrive every day. But, that's the price
we pay for development," Hynds said. Not all the discussion
focused on the negative. According to Hynds, regulation standards
did improve the quality of the taxicabs in the last three years.
Development projects were also discussed. According to Hynds,
Carnival Cruise Lines has shown a particular interest in leasing
Roatan's commercial boat dock. The cruise ship company is looking
at the possibility of building new piers adjacent to the current
to Hynds, USAirways and American Airlines expressed interest in
Roatan as a non-stop flight destination. Continental has already
announced its plan to fly non-stop from Houston to Roatan starting
June 12. "We are seeing a lot of interest from airlines, and
most of it is because of the cruise ships that come here,"
The status of local projects, among them the sewer project and Land
Catastro, were touched upon at the meeting. "It's not a good
project but it's out of my control," said Hynds, referring
to the sewer project. The Honduran Federal Government is overseeing
the project. "It is poorly done and poorly executed,"
Land Catastro "is finished for the entire island," Hynds
said. The project aims to clarify property boundaries. "It
will eliminate 95 percent of the land disputes" on Roatan,
According to Hynds, traffic problems were held to a minimum during
Semana Santa. The Roatan Municipality appropriated about Lps. 30,000
to pay officers to control the increased traffic volume.
Other concerns voiced at the meeting included the island's poor
road conditions, the number of stray dogs and complaints that island
law enforcement officers do not arrest known drug traffickers and
& SCRATCHY EPIDEMIC
According to Noltton, geographically, sea bathers eruption
affects swimmers and divers in the waters throughout the
While some people feel a prickling sensation in the water,
more often they feel nothing until later when the skin reacts.
"I can feel it when they sting me on the face and neck,
but it takes 24 hours before I start itching like crazy,"
said Kech. That's typical. Reactions usually become noticeable
between 4-24 hours after exposure. Most of the time, the
rash will resolve within a week. Antihistamines can be taken
for the itching and cortisone helps soothe the rash. Other
treatments include colloidal oatmeal preps and calamine
lotion. "Sea Safe," a lotion available at some
dive shops, can also help prevent the stings if applied
to exposed areas.
Swimmers and divers who touch the stinging cells trigger
a defensive reaction after the larvae become trapped by
bathing suits, wet suits or body creases. It is even possible
to continue getting stung once out of the water. According
to Kech, heat and change in pressure when a swimsuit or
wetsuit dries also trigger the larvae.
To limit the extent of the rash, Kech recommends changing
the swimsuit as soon as possible and rinsing the body in
fresh water. The severity of the stings varies person to
may not have fangs or claws, but these almost invisible creatures
of the sea pack an itchy sting. Sea lice, or "sea bathers
eruption," is nothing new to Roatan. Year after year divers
and swimmers suffer from the itchy red rash that erupts after
being stung by the pinhead-sized Sea Thimble jellyfish larvae.
About one-inch in diameter, the brown to olive green offspring
of the Sea Thimble jellyfish are equipped with stinging structures
called nematocysts. Normally, the larvae cycle peaks in March
and April. According to Jennifer Kech, education coordinator
at the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences, the swarms this
year are not as bad as in recent years.
Gillian Noltton, dive instructor and owner at French Harbour's
Subway dive shop, suffered from sea lice a month ago. "It
[sea lice] always whips you around the neck like a chain."
was an opportunity to be a part of a boy's camp in Tobago that opened
Lloyd Davidson's horizons toward the sea and the Caribbean. He became
fascinated with the sea, marine life and diving. Davidson participated
in the organizing of the camp, volunteered there and ended up working
side-by-side with Peter Hughes, the founder of scuba diving on Roatan
and AKR. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, he graduated
from Davidson College in North Carolina and enlisted into the US
Coast Guard. After four years of service in the North Atlantic and
polar seas, he got a call from Peter Hughes at AKR who offered him
a diving position at Roatan's first dive resort. It was 1973.
Later, Davidson took two-and-a-half years to sail around the world
and eventually sailed back to the US. Within a year he went from
a job at a university marine science lab to founding his own commercial
fishing outfit out of Morehead City. For ten years Davidson would
fish for snapper and grouper during most of the year and gill-net
fish in the winter.
Working with a group of US fishermen Davidson looked at opportunities
to develop snapper and grouper fishing in Honduras. Working with
Julio Galindo, the group founded Flying Fish and began to ship the
product to the US in 1987. "I think we did this about five
to eight years too early," says Davidson. "I thought this
will work out sooner or later and just hung in there."
17 years later the 58- year-old Tennessean is involved in several
other projects: he runs a freight boat between Roatan and Puerto
Cortez, owns a coffee plantation and just opened a bird park outside
of Copan. "I'm not fishing more for any questionable ideas,"
says Davidson with a smile.
Islands Voice: Do you see any affiliation with the adventure-seeking
Americans that have tied their lives to Central America over the past
Lloyd Davidson: The way I could describe it is this: 'I've
been furiously treading water trying to keep ahead of this place and
some really bizarre things have happened along the way.' The adventure
oriented existence has been point-in-fact coincidental with just trying
to operate. (
) This has not always been entirely for profit,
especially with the bird park. It's never been boring. You get caught
up here with things you never intend, but in order to solve one problem
you end up taking different turns that usually result in other problems.
B.I.V.: You saw many Americans come to Roatan over the years.
How are they different now then let's say 30 years ago?
L.D.: The people showing up right now [on Roatan] expect much
more than before. (
) There was one year [1991 when] there was
a huge break. In one year we got real telephones, the airport and
a paved road. That allowed things to move in a new direction. All
of a sudden conditions were much more tolerant to many more people
then they were before.
B.I.V.: What drives you? What makes you get up every morning
and go from Copan here, to your finca?
L.D.: [Smiling] Generally some horrible, looming crisis. If
it gets too bad on one end I can flee to the other end, recharge and
keep it going.
B.I.V.: But really, what is it? Is it responsibility towards
your employees? A social conscience? More of an entrepreneurial spirit,
a profit driven idea?
L.D.: There is an element perhaps of all of that. To a degree
I end up creating things that end up more complicated than I ever
envisioned them on the outset. So if you like the basic concept, fight
to make it work.
What were the key things that allowed you to keep going?
L.D.: I've been lucky to have really good people working that
allowed me to get away with doing two or three things at once. They
were contributing daily to keep these things functioning in the right
direction. I was able to use their ideas to improve them [the enterprises]
and keep them going.
B.I.V.: Is it easier now to find skilled, intelligent people
L.D.: I think so. Finding the right person is never easy in
a complicated, critical job. Finding somebody like Bertha [Montoya,
Flying Fish manager,] who can manipulate inputs from 10 different
directions at once and make them coordinate out into an export that
makes it out and on time, is difficult. It's really, really difficult
to find people like that. If you are going to fire somebody, in this
environment on Roatan, you better have the next guy in mind. (
It's getting easier, but it is not easy yet.
B.I.V.: How is the fish business doing?
L.D.: Scale fish production is moderate compared to shrimp
and lobster. The local market, due to the rise in tourism, will continue
to utilize more and more of the local scale fish production. Less
will be exported. (
) Flying Fish took a big hit on 9/11 and
we lost quite a bit of our cash flow exporting fresh product to a
market that didn't exist for several months after that. Prior to that,
we averaged 70,000-120,000 lbs. a month in exports.
B.I.V.: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
L.D.: If you make long range plans in Honduras, it's just a
waste of time. You just don't know what the short-term curves are
going to be. And in some cases they can be huge. I've seen huge changes
in this country. Particularly in the last 10-12 years. Services, parts
) This is a tough environment to control, particularly
for a foreigner. You have to be a person willing to accept fairly
high risks and comfortable with a lot of change. And can accept a
certain amount of unpredictability.
story / editorial
/ local news
Not only are Americans coming to Roatan to live,
but their eating habits are tagging along. In one such development,
a New York City hot dog stand has found a home in West End.
Hot dog stand #4 once was parked on a street in the Big Apple. Thanks
to Carl Illemann, owner of the deli Boulangerie, the stand has moved
to a warmer climate. Illemann bought the hot dog stand with a deep
fat fryer on EBay for an undisclosed amount in February. A recent
check on EBay revealed the asking price for frankfurter wagons to
be between $200 and $2,000.
the wiener stand to Roatan was more complicated than the actual
purchase. "I had to have a convincing argument to get it past
customs," Illemann said. He then revealed his persuasion technique.
"Money is a convincing argument," he said.
Illemann's first business was selling hot dogs in Munich, Germany
when he was 16. Now, he's doing it again, but this time he does
not run the show. Irishman Paul O'Connor and Robin of Chicago take
turns selling the roadside frankfurters. It's open 4 pm-12:30 am
on weekdays and on weekends the wieners are sold until 3:30 am.
"I was looking around trying to figure out how to make more
money," said Illemann. "Then I thought: there are mostly
Americans here. And Americans eat hotdogs."